Discussions are an important part of any classroom structure. How can we turn discussions into more meaningful opportunities and also use them as a speaking and listening strategy? I have listed a few starting points on discussion forums that are mostly for middle school and high school classrooms, but do not be discouraged to adapt them and try them in elementary classrooms.
Now it is really easy to implement a discussion forum or any teaching strategy for the sake of it, but I believe that such an error is a teaching trap. There has to be a reason behind adopting the method and a vision around what the outcomes are going to be. The other thing to keep in mind is to have a really good focus. I, and many other teachers, fall into the trap of trying one hundred different things in a lesson when in reality, you only need to do a few smart things in the lesson. Try to avoid using these, and any other teaching strategies, as pieces for buffer time in a lesson or for the "added effect" result. If any of those two are the end result of these discussion forums then you will fail at doing the two things that most of these discussion forums aim to achieve: create meaningful opportunities and create a space for speaking and listening.
Types of Discussions
ReadWriteThink explains that Carousel Brainstorming "provides scaffolding for new information to be learned or existing information to be reviewed through movement, conversation, and reflection." The purpose of carousel brainstorming is to have a discussion around a topic before diving into the topic more fully. For example, a teacher can display pictures of women in colour in the Civil Rights Movement and move around them room to discuss them to get an understanding of what the students already know or do not know. I find this animated explanation by Mark Drollinger is both accurate and informative in understanding carousel brainstorming.
I learned about Chat Stations by reading about it on the website, Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzalez. I love a lot of what Jennifer has on her website. I started to immediately think about how to use this in a classroom setting as soon as I read about it and watched a video overview on the idea. Quite simply, the idea of chat stations is to encourage students to move around and discuss through cooperative learning. It is a friendly tool that is easy for teachers to implement. Unfortunately, there are no clear videos of Chat Stations in a classroom example, but the next idea on Conver-Stations should help piece things together.
This is definitely one of the coolest names for a teaching strategy. These are quite similar to Chat Stations. Conver-Stations are about getting students to move around the classroom and for students to converse with different peers. The Teaching Channel has one video on Conver-Stations that provides a short look into one classroom that uses it.
This is a forum where a small group of students read and gather to discuss a piece of literature with little to no teacher facilitation. Literature Circles require a lot more planning and thought. I have made this (hopefully useful) guided called A Guide to Literature Circles, which provides an overview of how to plan for a literature circle.
Socratic Seminars Read Write Think explains that Socratic Seminars are based on "Socrates’ belief in the power of asking questions, prize inquiry over information and discussion over debate." This concept/framework/forum is recommended for Grades 6 to 12. You can view their run through of a Socratic Seminar to get a basic idea of the concept. I have seen many videos around a socratic seminar where the teacher is guiding the conversation, but a socratic seminar is supposed to have almost no teacher talking. This is one of the major highlights of the whole concept. As a way to move forward, watch Kim Hughes' classroom video using Socratic Seminars. It is the one of the best ones out there. In addition, the most brief and too-the-point explanation of socratic seminars that I find is on the blog, Those Who Can, Teach. There is a how to run on explanation page and how to prepare for one page.